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October 6, 2016 at 11:37 am

“Ananda”: crossing the border between ritual and performance

“Ananda”: crossing the border between ritual and performance
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Elena Angelova*

I entered the world of  “Ananda” (September 20, 2016) without any knowledge about it in advance: I walked the way lit with candles, drank from the Indian tea and thought that this is already an experience of integrity and sinking in a meditative, different from the every-day world environment. Right from the entrance there was the feeling of being part of a silent celebration, a moving in a place for sacral ritual. My knowledge about rituals is very limited, I barely knew that “Ananda” is the word for joy or luck in Sanskrit language. So there was an element of surprise when I entered in a world with much more than that.

First of all, there was a very visible devotion and deep connection in the performers with what they were doing. It remained as a very important and sacralised secret, which leaded them in transformations, an intensive journey they moved through in order to get into very radical situations.

“Ananda” started by creating a common rhythm. The six dancers, dressed in very light costumes with matching colours that slightly resembled comfortable training clothes shaped a large circle in which they moved with the same speed, using the same steps. It felt that this way they charge the centre of the room, and at certain moment they were generating a strong and focused energy that functioned as an engine. Continuously moving in a circle spontaneously some of them jumped or started running, provoked from the uprising level of energy. Before this there was already built a different image of time. The common rhythm created a structure, a base, that was about to be broken from the states that every one of the performers entered. The circle of creating and building the rhythm functioned as a very practical tool to put every participant in the ritual (including the audience) in the same perception of time, until it was reached the frequency of traveling inside the body and the mind. This moment started happening and then the simple and easily read movement key was changed into far more complex and abstract situation.

Probably the right description of what followed was that the performers entered different themes of human emotional life like fear or anger and exposed them very radically towards one another, sincerely and actively using the body as a source, regardless of technique or comfort. I remember that in this first part I regarded the performers as dancers, looking at their quality of movement, precision or presence. But what happened after, changed my point of view; they resembled to me people who are possessed or overwhelmed by a certain energy, or a force, which transformed their movements into actions, enlarging their capacity into expressions, far beyond any comprehensible form of movement.

I think the first element that was exposed was anger, aggression and concentration onto the destructive force of human nature. The four men among the dancers acted with widely released strength in the voice and the presence. They were trying to get the total limit of their physicality through shouting and moving which leaded to series of slapping and real hitting among the six performers. The force, which they put in their actions was real and for a moment I completely forgot that this is a dance performance – no dance, no theatre or no “pretending” was happening. The only present thing was the body in its pain, its being here and now in its vulnerability and power at the irreversible reality.

The extremity of the view of the performers hitting one another awoke my whole being and I started to feel that all the conventions of a “performance” are gone. The scene was loaded with only one action – hitting on the naked flesh and in this controversial moment of shock and lack of understanding why for me was another turning point of “Ananda”. I felt that we are all transferred back in time in a cruel world with cruel experiences which deliver a certain feel of purification. And there feelings are stronger and free from any convention or technique that contemporary world can give. I regarded this scene as a starting point for re-connection with the animalistic, authentic and spiritual potential of the body, as activating a force that is capable to unlock the energy, forgotten in the every-day life.

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Although I was rationally frustrated by the brutality of the scene, another part of me, an irrational and subconscious part was intrigued in a something like a deep empathy that was engaged and I could sense the power of the hitting on a real psycho-somatic level; like the hitting took part not only in the flesh; it resonated in the mind recalling confusing and controversial feelings and ideas. The dancers were both in a trance and intoxication of the moment. They looked as if they were existing only in the realm of expression, ritualising the body as a tool through which they can reach an ecstatic state.

In this intensive situation in which the choreography was created by the battle and the cruelty of the present moment, the dancers organized a real storm of destructive forces, that made a permanent impression of the force and the expression of the performers.

What followed, was a new re-building of the cosmos and it started by transferring all the collected energy out of the performance space. The dancers sat in front of a member of the audience and made eye contact for a continuous time; after that they gently touched or held the hand of the person. That way they were making an interaction and bringing the performance out among the viewers in the room.

This simple action was strong enough to erase the memory of the cruelty before that; now, as we all have survived the storm there was another force moving in and this was the power of peace and purity. After the release of destructive energy, maybe by universal logic it was time for the opposite thing to happen – silence and listening. The listening to the breathing of the performers, the watching the sweat of their bodies, drove us into another world of connecting with human nature again through simplicity and calmness.

The famous quote of Pina Bausch, that she is not interested in how dancers move; she is interested in what moves them, here can function as a foundation. Regardless of their sex, body and technique, the dancers in “Ananda” provoked their physical limits by surrendering to the ritual. Entering the ecstatic state together with them, we felt a lot more different than the time we entered the performance space. We were changed by the idea what human body can awaken: expressive power, authentic memory of the body, crossing the border between ritual and performance.

As a viewer without any background in this particular choreographer’s work, I felt that “Ananda” was a very strong experience that can’t be rationally examined.  It connects with the deep irrational subconscious of the viewer and unlocks its vulnerability and power.

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Photos: Artūrs Jasinskis

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Elena Angelova is a dancer and dance and theatre writer from Bulgaria. She begins her dance life with classical ballet and later on continues studying dance theatre and contemporary dance. During this time she paralelly dives into another subject – theatre studies and theatre management, which she graduates in the Bulgarian National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts, followed by a Master of Arts degree in „Theatre art”. Currently Elena writes actively about the dance and theatre scene in Bulgaria. Her articles, interviews and reviews have been published in the most major Bulgarian medias for culture. Elena has been working for Bulgaria’s oldest International Theatre Festival „Varna Summer”. Nevertheless Elena’s interests include dance both as a theory and practice. As a dancer she takes part of two Elena Jacinta’s productions, „Tongue” and „Wordless”. She also dances in other choreographic projects with Bulgarian choreographers such as Mihaela Griveva („Slipstream”).

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